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meat, term for the flesh of animals used for food, especially that of cattle, sheep, lambs, and swine, as distinct from game, poultry, and fish; sometimes it is inclusive of all animal flesh or of all animal flesh except fish and shellfish. The edible parts of a carcass include lean flesh, fat flesh, and edible glands or organs, such as the heart, liver, kidneys, tongue, tripe, brains, and sweetbreads. The chief constituents of meat are water, protein, and fat. Phosphorus, iron, and vitamins are also contained in meat, especially in some of the edible organs (e.g., liver). Although meat is digested more slowly than starches or sugars, it has a high food value, with more than 95% of the protein and fat being digested; fattier meats take somewhat longer to digest than the leaner ones.

Good meat may be recognized by a uniform color; a firm, elastic texture; being barely moist to the touch; and having a scarcely perceptible, clean odor. The choicer cuts should be of fine texture and well marbled with fat.The comparative toughness of meat depends on the character of the muscle walls and connective tissue, the part of the animal from which the meat is taken, and the age and condition of the animal. Ripening meat, i.e., hanging it for a time at a temperature just above freezing (or, in a more recently developed technique, at a high temperature) permits enzyme action and the formation of lactic acid, which tenderizes it. Cooking meat not only softens tissues, kills parasites and microorganisms, and coagulates blood and albumen, but makes the meat more palatable by developing its flavors or introducing new ones by means of seasonings and sauces.

Meat, where available, has been a staple food since prehistoric times. The meat supply, obtained at first by using the raw flesh of animals found dead, was augmented by trapping; then, as humans developed their tools and a community life, by hunting; and finally, by the domestication of animals. Meat consumption has been commonly based on the supply, lamb and mutton being preferred in the Middle East, veal in Italy, and pork and beef in most of Europe and the Americas. The leading producers of meat for export are Argentina, Australia, and New Zealand.

In the 21st cent., researchers have grown meat from animal cells in laboratories using special techniques and equipment and a growth medium, with the aim of ultimately producing meat in factories without the need to raise and slaughter livestock. Known as cultured meat, a version consisting of chicken grown in a bioreactor was first approved for sale in Singapore in 2020. Plant-based meat substitutes that look, cook, and taste similar to some forms of meat, such as hamburgers, became widely available in the late 2010s. Meat has been subject to prohibitions (see vegetarianism), as well as to butchering regulations on religious and hygienic grounds.

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the skeletal musculature of slaughtered animals or game; for humans, one of the most important nutritional products. Meat is also composed of connective and fatty tissues, as well as an insignificant quantity of nerve tissue. Carcasses and parts of them (meat on bones) are also referred to as meat. Depending on the species of animal, meat may be called mutton or lamb, beef, or horsemeat, for example.

Chemical composition. Chemically, the muscle tissue of slaughtered animals is 73–77 percent moisture, 18–21 percent proteins, 1–3 percent lipids, 1.7–2 percent extractive nitrogenous substances, 0.9–1.2 percent extractive nitrogen-free substances, and 0.8–1.0 percent mineral substances. Myoglobin, the respiratory pigment in muscle, gives a freshly cut piece of meat its dark red color. Its derivative, oxymyoglobin, is responsible for the light red color that develops rapidly when meat is exposed to air. The nuclei of a muscle fiber consist chiefly of nucleoproteins. The myofibrils are made up of proteins of the actomyosin complex (about 60 percent of all proteins)—myosin, actin, and tropomyosin. The principal proteins in the connective tissue of meat are collagen and elastin, which are also components of the sarcolemma.

The extractive nitrogenous substances include carnosine, anserine, carnitine, phasphocreatine, creatine, creatinine, adenosine triphosphate (ATP), adenosine diphosphate (ADP), adenosine monophosphate (AMP), inosine monophosphate (IMP), purine bases, amino acids, and urea. The nitrogen-free extractive substances include glycogen, glucose, hexose phosphates, and lactic and pyruvic acids.

The total lipid (fat) content of muscle tissue depends on the fatness of the animal. In muscle tissue (or lean meat) the level of phosphatides is fairly constant and fluctuates from 0.5 to 0.8 percent, depending on the type of meat. The total cholesterol content is 50–70 milligram percent (mg percent), and the total esterified cholesterol content, 3–5 mg percent. The triglyceride content varies greatly. Free fatty acids and monoglycerides and diglycerides are found in small quantities. Among the phosphatides in meat are lecithins, cephalins, sphingomyelins, and plasmalogens.

Most of the fatty acids (95–99 percent of the total content of fatty acids) of intramuscular lipids in slaughtered animals are higher fatty acids with an even number of carbon atoms. There are qualitative and quantitative differences in the composition of fatty acids in beef, pork, mutton, and lamb.

Lean meat contains 0.20–0.22 percent phosphorus, 0.32–0.35 percent potassium, 0.05–0.08 percent sodium, 0.020–0.022 percent magnesium, 0.010–0.012 percent calcium, 0.002–0.003 percent iron, 0.003–0.005 percent zinc, and many other trace elements, including copper, strontium, barium, boron, silicon, tin, lead, molybdenum, fluorine, iodine, manganese, cobalt, and nickel.

Biochemical processes after slaughter. Several hours after slaughter, rigor mortis begins to develop in muscle tissue. It is characterized by loss of flexibility and elasticity and by hardening of the muscles. When it is in a state of rigor mortis, meat is not suitable for use. Biochemical processes bring about the end of rigor mortis and cause the muscles to relax and soften.

The process that occurs after the death of the animal and that leads to significant improvement in the quality of the meat is called aging, a type of autolysis caused by the action of enzymes in the meat. In the meat industry, aging is promoted by keeping the carcasses in refrigeration chambers at 0°-4°C. Most of the biochemical reactions during aging involve the irreversible decomposition of certain cell components. Immediately after the animal’s death the decomposition of glycogen (glycogenolysis) begins. By a series of intermediate reactions, glycogen is converted into lactic acid, which plays an essential role in the aging of meat. Unless the meat contains sufficient glycogen, lactic acid will not form. If the animals are exhausted, ill, or excited before slaughter, their muscle tissue usually contains little glycogen, and they yield meat that is unstable in storage.

The principal changes in the nucleotides are dephosphorylation and deamination. The enzyme decomposition of ATP, which begins immediately after slaughter and ends 24 hours later, is accompanied by the accumulation of phosphoric acid and inosine monophosphate. Associated with these biochemical processes are physicochemical changes in meat proteins, which result in a significant change in the hydration of meat. Until the onset of rigor mortis, the meat of a freshly slaughtered animal retains water very well. During aging the meat becomes tender and juicy.

Flavor substances and other specific substances or their precursors, which, after culinary or technological processing, impart a characteristic flavor and aroma to a meat product, are formed during aging. The flavor of meat apparently depends on a number of water-soluble extractive substances, including inosinic acid, glutamic acid or its monosodium salt, free amino acids, and many other substances of low molecular weight. The flavor and aroma characteristic of different kinds of meat (beef, pork, mutton, or lamb) are due to lipids or compounds formed from these water-soluble substances. The optimal period for aging meat in a refrigeration chamber is 72 hours. When the storage period is increased (by up to ten days), the flavor, aroma, and tenderness of meat increase slowly.

Microbiological processes after slaughter. There are no microorganisms in healthy animals that are well rested before slaughter. Fatigue fosters the appearance of microorganisms from the intestinal tract in muscle tissue. The use of meat from fatigued animals or from animals that have been poorly fed for a long time may cause food poisoning. To increase the stability of meat and to protect it from the effects of microbes, a number of conditions are observed. The animals are given sufficient rest before slaughter, and the hide and hooves are cleaned. The carcass is bled thoroughly, dressed properly, and chilled rapidly. The temperature of the storage chamber is kept at 0°C, and the relative humidity at 85 percent.

During prolonged refrigeration (especially if the temperature regime is interrupted), the continuous increase in microorganisms on the meat’s surface usually results in sliming and putrefaction. The biochemistry of the processes that occur during putrefaction is fairly constant. Under the action of the enzymes of putrefactive microorganisms, proteins decompose, forming intermediate and end products of putrefaction, including malodorous ones (ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide, mercaptans, skatole, indole, cresol, phenol, volatile fatty acids,

Table 1. Protein and fat content and caloric value of the assimilable part of various meats
 Chemical composition of edible part (in percent)Kilocalories1 per 100 g of edible part
1 1 kilocalorie = 4.19 kilojoules
Mutton and lamb, Prime grade
Beef, prime grade..........
Pork, fatty............
Pork, lean..........
Veal, milk-fed...........16.17.0131.0

carbonyl compounds, amines, and alcohols, for example). Chemical methods of detecting spoilage are based on the chemistry of meat spoilage.

In the human diet, meat is a basic source of complete protein. It consists of valuable muscle proteins (myosin, actin, and globulin), which contain all the essential amino acids, and connective-tissue, incomplete proteins made up of collagen and elastin. When heated, collagen is converted to gluten (gelatin), which has biological value but does not contain the important amino acid tryptophan. Elastin, which does not soften even after prolonged cooking, has no nutritional value. The extractive nitrogenous substances, which are powerful stimulants to the digestive glands, are biologically the most active components of meat. Concentrated bouillons and roasted meat are very rich in these subtances. Because boiled meat contains few of them, it is used in dietotherapy. (See Table 1 for the content of proteins and fats in various meats.)

Because of the characteristic predominance of hard saturated fatty acids in them, meat fats have high melting points (beef fat, 45°-52°C; mutton and lamb fat, 45°-56°C; and pork fat, 34°-44°C). The assimilability of the fat depends on its melting point. Beef fat is 90 percent assimilable, and pork fat 97–98 percent.

Meat is also a source of some mineral substances and a number of trace elements, including copper, cobalt, and zinc. It also contains a good balance of the B vitamins (0.10–93 mg percent of thiamine [B1], 0.15–0.25 mg percent of riboflavin [B2], 2.7–6.21 mg percent of nicotinamide [vitamin PP], 0.3–0.61 mg percent of pyridoxine [B6], and 80–113 mg percent of choline).


Veterinary-sanitary appraisal. Appraisal of meat involves examination of animals before slaughter, as well as postmortem examination of the carcasses and organs. Only clinically healthy animals delivered from farms that are free of infectious diseases may be slaughtered for meat. These sanitary conditions are confirmed by veterinary certificates issued for each lot of cattle to be slaughtered. Each carcass and the organs from it undergo postmortem examination, which includes pathologicoanatomical, microbiological, and biochemical analysis. Organoleptic and physicochemical methods based on the chemistry of meat spoilage are used to evaluate freshness. In the early 1970’s histological analysis based on the detection of microstructural changes in stale meat was introduced. Meat is a perishable product that requires refrigeration and limitation of storage periods.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

What does it mean when you dream about meat?

Eating meat sometimes indicates that one is getting to the heart of the matter or finally getting down to the “meat of an issue.” Meat can also represent a bold and hearty grasp of the dreamer’s needs.

The Dream Encyclopedia, Second Edition © 2009 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
References in classic literature ?
After grace was said, and while the servants clattered in with the meat platters, Robin stood up and said:
Says he, 'I'll give ye the meat, fair dame, And ye will give me the bread."
And, moreover, I will go dine with you all, my sweet lads, and that as fast as I can hie." Whereupon, having sold all his meat, he closed his stall and went with them to the great Guild Hall.
When Robin and those that were with him came in, all laughing at some merry jest he had been telling them, those that were near the Sheriff whispered to him, "Yon is a right mad blade, for he hath sold more meat for one penny this day than we could sell for three, and to whatsoever merry lass gave him a kiss he gave meat for nought." And others said, "He is some prodigal that hath sold his land for silver and gold, and meaneth to spend all right merrily."
At last the dinner was ready to be served and the Sheriff bade Robin say grace, so Robin stood up and said, "Now Heaven bless us all and eke good meat and good sack within this house, and may all butchers be and remain as honest men as I am."
"Now busk ye, my merry men all," quoth he, "and bring forth the best we have, both of meat and wine, for his worship the Sheriff hath feasted me in Nottingham Guild Hall today, and I would not have him go back empty."
The meat, and the tea, and the tobacco seemed to have brought him back to life, and he gripped tighter hold of the idea behind his age-bleared eyes.
And why is it that you and your old woman are without meat at the end of your years?"
"When the dog takes your meat you beat the dog with a club.
And so I come back from Cambell Fort, and no payment has been made, and Moklan is dead, and in my old age I am without fish and meat."
"And no longer did he eat the meat placed before him," Zilla broke in.
"Wherefore," old Ebbits said with grave dignity, "there be no one to hunt meat for me in my old age, and I sit hungry by my fire and tell my story to the White Man who has given me grub, and strong tea, and tobacco for my pipe."